JERUSALEM (JTA) – A captive Israeli soldier will not not be freed until Israel releases hundreds of Palestinians from its jails, Hamas said.
"These prisoners are a surety which we must redeem," Hamas wrote in an official statement Monday that marked the 22nd anniversary of its founding. "We will not give up on them, no matter how long it takes. That is what we swore and that is our obligation, and we will not give up until every last prisoner is freed from the prisons of the occupation."
Gilad Shalit has been held in Gaza by Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the strip, for more than three years. Negotiations reportedly are at a standstill over Israel’s rejection of a few of the more than 450 prisoners Hamas has requested to be released.
Also in the statement, Hamas called for reconciliation with Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and said it believed in "resistance" to wrest land from Israel’s control.
Meanwhile, during a meeting Sunday in Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly told Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Maashal that Hamas should hold off on the prisoner exchange until it gets a higher number of prisoners released.
Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters attended a rally Monday in downtown Gaza City for the group’s anniversary.
"Those that plotted Operation Cast Lead did not imagine that we would mark the anniversary of Hamas’ establishment in such a large event," Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said at the rally, referring to Israel’s military operation last winter aimed at stopping rocket fire in southern Israel. "Those that planned the war, and executed it, when they bombed Gaza and killed thousands, did not imagine that such a day would come in the Gaza Strip."
Haniyeh added that "Hamas has not fallen despite the war, the Zionist enemy leaders are the ones that fell. Hamas has continued to grow and gain strength despite all the hardship it has suffered, all the arrests, the expulsions and the assassinations."